I got a graduation announcement in the mail today.
As I opened it up, I was reminded of my own graduation, years (actually decades) ago. People told me I was embarking on the best years of my life. That my future was before me. That I should be elated.
I was terrified.
While I was excited to be graduating from high school, I had no idea what to expect in this next stage of life. I was giving up the comfort of home, going somewhere completely unknown.
I had chosen to go to college out-of-state, where I knew no one. I knew it could be difficult. At the time I made the decision, it sounded like an adventure. But as the days drew nearer, it felt more like a disaster.
I clearly remember sitting on my bed, wondering if it was too late to change my mind. Wondering if I had made the right choice. Wondering what possessed me to want to leave everything familiar. It’s one thing to make a decision, weigh out the pros and cons, and decide to forge ahead. It’s another thing to live it.
I didn’t know what to expect in college. Would I make good friends? Would I be able to handle the work? Would I miss my family too much?
And most importantly, would I be happy in this new phase of life? Would I like it more than the phase I was leaving?
I have felt that way many times since college.
Moving. Taking a new job. Getting married. Having a baby. Watching my oldest graduate. And numerous changes in between.
We all go through them. They are a natural part of life.
Not all transitions are welcome. Or chosen. Or happy.
Some are painful, and make us dread the future. In those transitions, at the beginning, everything looks barren. Lost. Broken. The transition from healthy to sick. From wife to widow. From employed to jobless. From prosperous to bankrupt.
We do not chose these transitions. They are chosen for us. But we nonetheless have to face our new reality, uncertain of what it holds.
I have faced both joyful and devastating transitions. While it’s easy to rejoice in the former, God has done great things for me in the gut-wrenching transitions too. Often when I least expected them.
A few years ago, when my life was radically changing and I felt afraid of what lay ahead, I read in Hebrews 11, “Abraham went out, not knowing where he was going.”
Abraham left a familiar place, a known culture, a comfortable situation and went to a foreign land, not knowing where he was going. He had no idea what lay ahead.
I clung to those verses. God had an incredible plan for Abraham. Beyond Abraham’s wildest dreams.
God knew where Abraham was going. God had called him from one place to the next. Abraham’s future was certain.
But Abraham had to do the hard work of leaving behind what he knew.
The hardest thing about transitions is giving up what we know, and often love, to go to something unfamiliar.
This struggle is unmistakable in painful transitions, as we are losing something treasured, that we hoped would last forever, that we didn’t want to let go.
But even the most wonderful transitions involve a leaving behind. Like a wedding, when two people are ecstatic about starting their new life together, they must also leave their parents. The first question of the ceremony is: “Who gives this woman in marriage?”
New beginnings and transitions always involve endings.
When I am first adjusting to any transition, joyful or unpleasant, I often look longingly back at what I’ve left behind. I tend to forget the hard parts, and remember only the good things, the things I miss, the things I don’t have any more.
For me, that longing is normal. I need to grieve what I’ve given up. But after I’ve acknowledged the loss, I must fight my tendency to dwell on the past. To reminisce about “the good ole days.” To get stuck in what was rather than look to what will be.
I need to let go of the past so I can embrace the things that I am moving towards. Through more than one transition, I’ve forced myself to journal how the change could be good for me. I’ve noted all the positive aspects of the transition. I’ve listed all the possibilities. And when I’ve initiated the change, I remind myself why I wanted to make it.
I refer back to Isaiah 43:18-19 which says, “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I’m making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.”
I need to remember that God is doing a new thing. A beautiful thing. He is making a way in the wilderness.
The first part of every transition feels like the wilderness. I don’t know where I’m going. Everything is unfamiliar.
But as I take a step of faith and jump into the new phase, I feel a sense of peace. God is in this new place just as He was in the old. He goes before me.
I think of the Chris Tomlin song that says, “I know Who goes before me, I know Who stands behind; the God of angel armies is always by my side…”
Transitions challenge me to trust God more. I can’t rely on myself. When everything around me is changing, the one thing I can rely on is the God Who never changes.
I learned to rely on God in my transition to college. I felt lost my first few months there and questioned my decision. I kept thinking back to my close circle of friends in high school and longed to be known again.
I turned to God, begging Him to help me. I felt lonely and isolated. I missed everything familiar. As I opened the Bible, I flipped to Joshua 1:5: “Just as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will never leave you or forsake you.”
An overwhelming sense of peace came over me. God was with me. Just as He’d always been. It was going to be okay. More than that, it was going to be good.
My four years at Virginia were amazing. Better than I imagined they would be. But they were hard at first. And lonely.
I look back on those days whenever I am in transition. And even more, I remember that no matter where I go, God goes before me. And He will never fail me. I will never walk alone.